Mexico Leads Way, But Latin Pix Have Hard Act To Follow

Because Mexican films picked up five of the top six prizes at December’s Havana fest, one might look to that country for tasty Latino exports. But there’s a consensus that the 10 films that made Oscar pre-selection last fall were a pretty unremarkable lot – nothing with the commercial potential of “Like Water for Chocolate,” nor the artistry of “Cronos,” Mexico’s best-known recent exports.

Chosen as Mexico’s Oscar hope, Arturo Ripstein’s “Beginning and End” is well-traveled on the festival circuit. He’s since made “Queen of the Night,” seen last year at Cannes.

Mexican pix with good buzz include Roberto Sneider’s debut, “Two Crimes,” a black comedy centering on a likable rogue who worms his way into the affections of a rich provincial uncle and earns the wrath of the rest of the family. Also notable is Gabriel Retes’ “Welcome,” a farce about an underfunded film crew shooting an AIDS drama.

Upcoming in ’95 are “Salon Mexico,” the remake of the Emilio Fernandez 1948 classic about a Mexico City dance hall; “Entre Villa y una Mujer Desnuda,” adapted from a successful play about Pancho Villa; and “Sin Remitente,” by Carlos Carrera, whose “El Heroe” won in the short film category at Cannes last year.

Berlin competitor “Miracle Alley,” from veteran director Jorge Fons, was adapted from the book by Naguib Mahfouz and features some of Mexico’s most high-profile film actors.

The Venezuelans have been successful lately at attracting international coin, and the country’s most promising new films are co-productions. Of these, the Oscar hopeful, “Knocks at My Door,” helmed by Alejandro Saderman, features Veronica Oddo as a nun with a keen social conscience who shelters a leftwing rebel from the law.

Fina Torres considered entering her “Celestial Mechanics” at Berlin, but chose instead to save it for Cannes, where her “Oriana” was prized 10 years ago. “Celestial,” a Venezuela/France/Spain co-productions, is a Cinderella-like comedy about a Latin American opera singer in Paris.

Three other promising films are: “Nude with Oranges,” a U.S.-Venezuelan co-production from Luis Alberto Lamata, set during Venezuela’s 19th century civil wars; Jose Ramon Novoa’s “Sicario,” a drama about hired killers; and “Santera,” a film set against Afro-Catholic syncretism, from Solveig Hoogesteijn.

In Argentina, film subsidies have been hiked – even cable operators have been told to co-fund – and the first fruits should soon emerge. Among cable co-productions is “Don’t Die Without Telling Me Where You’re Going,” from top helmer Eliseo Subiela (“Dark Side of the Heart,” “Man Facing Southeast”).